EDITORS’ NOTE: Today is the final day in a week-long series of columns on biblical doctrine by former LifeWay Christian Resources President Jimmy Draper. Today’s column accompanies another column on the same subject, healing. The series coincides with “Baptist Doctrine Study” week within the Southern Baptist Convention.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In the past 25 years we’ve seen the death of scores of people who refused medical help because of their belief that faith is all that is needed for healing. But, how much faith is enough?
The Scripture never tries to quantify faith. Faith is simply described. When the disciples in Matthew 17:20 asked why they could not cast the demon out of the boy in, Jesus rebuked their “little faith” and went on to say, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed … nothing will be impossible to you.”
Jesus was making a strong point that it isn’t the size of the faith that matters, but where and under what circumstances the seed is planted. The mustard seed was the smallest garden variety of seed (Matthew 13:32). If God is the sole object of our faith, then all things are possible for the believer because all things are possible for the One in whom faith’s seed is planted. The controlling factor of what He will do for us and through us is His will (1 John 5:14-15)
We are told to pray for the needs of our lives, including healing, but our prayer must be in proper submission to God’s will. We must always pray with complete confidence in God, His integrity and His faithfulness, and in submission to His will. John tell us that we receive what we ask from God because we are obedient and pleasing to Him (1 John 3:22). We must always pray unselfishly. James 4:1-3 reminds us that we do not get responses to our prayers when we pray to simply satisfy our desire for pleasure. Peter reminds us that to pray effectively we must be in proper relationship with others (1 Peter 3:7). And Luke admonishes us to pray persistently (Luke 18:1)
But what if God does not answer immediately? It may or may not be a denial, but perhaps a delay. He may be saying, “Not now.” When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray He told them a parable about a man whose friend came in the night, asking to borrow some bread. The man refused to answer the request at first because his family had already gone to bed. However, the persistence of the friend resulted in the request being granted (Luke 11:1-13) God may be saying “not now.” Or, He may be saying “no.” Our part is to pray and to trust God for His will to be accomplished.
Some claim that the use of doctors and medicines is evidence of a lack of faith for the Christian. This is not true. God could save sinners without any human instrumentality, but He does not usually do so. If God can use a man with his consecrated skill, love and understanding to bring a soul to Christ, why should He not use a doctor, nurse or pharmacist with their consecrated skill in healing the sick? Remember, all healing is from God.
Asa was not rebuked for going to a doctor, but because he disobeyed God by seeking a godless pagan physician (2 Chronicles 16:11-14) rather than a Levitical priest (Leviticus 13). Paul told Timothy to take some medicinal wine (1 Timothy 5:23) and he traveled with his own personal physician, Dr. Luke (Colossians 4:14).
Jesus is called “The Great Physician.” He would not allow His Name above all names to be linked with anything dishonorable. In fact, Jesus Himself acknowledged the legitimacy of doctors and medicines (Matthew 9:12, Luke 10:25-37). There is not one verse of Scripture that even hints that believers are not to use doctors and medicine. Medical personnel are participants in the inexhaustible study of God’s created processes. We should pray for God to heal and restore first, and if the condition persists, see a physician.
But what about the admonition in James 5:13-20 to call the elders of the church and anoint the sick person with oil? If someone is immobilized with a severe illness, then he should call the elders. It is understandable that James would recommend that the elders be called instead of the sick person attempting to go to them. Who are these elders? They are the men God placed in leadership in the church. They were to be involved in three basic tasks: (1) praying over the sick person; (2) anointing him with oil; and (3) confessing sin to one another.
If the reason for the sickness is personal sin, then once it is removed the opportunity will likely be present for healing. Unconfessed sin can be the cause of illness in a believer. James is pointing out that spiritual matters take priority over physical matters.
I’ve often been asked about what being anointed with oil signified in the Bible. Some have said that it was a balm for soreness and was a common practice to place oil upon an injury or upon the place where pain persisted. The Good Samaritan is a fine example of such a remedy. With James, however, this is not the case. The elders are not physicians, so they would not be called on to practice some medicinal cure.
Others have said this anointing is a reference to the gift of healing, but there is no mention of that special gift here, and it would not be likely that all of the elders of the church would have that gift. Still others have claimed that the oil is a ceremonial symbol, evidence of our faith in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and a sign of a miraculous cure. Others have indicated that such practice was one solely for the apostolic period, and that we are not to do this anymore. But, James doesn’t actually say that.
Is healing guaranteed if we call the elders and anoint with oil, as some have suggested? As I’ve said previously, we must be very careful about attaching a magical power to a formula in our search for the miraculous. That is just not God’s way of doing things. Whatever the meaning of the anointing, several things are certain: (1) the church historically has never obeyed this command on everyone who was sick; and (2) many people who have been anointed with oil and prayed over have died.
We won’t always see God divinely intervene and heal a sick person, even a believer. Sometimes, a life of faithfulness lived out in the midst of physical suffering is a greater testimony of God’s power, and it just may bring Him more glory. The way you and I as Christians face sickness and even death may ultimately lead someone to faith because of the assurance in God’s goodness and His promise of life eternal that you hide in your heart. But we can’t just hide it in our heart, can we? We are commanded to tell people about this Great Physician and His ultimate healing.
I want to remind you that there are no circumstances in which we cannot call upon the Lord. Indeed, in every circumstance we are to pray and praise the Lord. If a healing from God comes to the believer, it is something that brings glory to God and not to man, no matter how many physicians were involved in their care. This happens only when it is in His perfect will.
Jimmy Draper is the former president of LifeWay Christian Resources.